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PA, UNRWA Pass the Hat Around at UNGA

The Palestinian Authority and UNRWA took advantage of the UN General Assembly to ask donor nations to cover budget shortfalls.
By Maayana Miskin
First Publish: 9/24/2009, 10:58 PM

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The Palestinian Authority and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) took advantage of the UN General Assembly this week to ask donor nations to cover budget shortfalls. As of Thursday evening the PA had successfully raised $400 million, while UNRWA was still seeking funds.

As the General Assembly began, PA leaders informed donor nations that they were facing a budget deficit of hundreds of millions of dollars. PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad announced Thursday that the donors had pledged to cover the spending gap within the next four months.

Many of the countries that gave to cover the shortfall were among those that pledged $4 billion in support in late 2007, and gave billions more following the Israeli Cast Lead counterterror offensive in Gaza in early 2009.

The $400 million deficit was anticipated despite a sharp increase in foreign aid to the PA over the past decade.

UNRWA Pleads for Aid
The PA also benefits from UNRWA, which provides aid to more than 1.7 million PA Arabs in Judea, Samaria and Gaza who are recognized as “refugees.” The UN defines any descendent of an Arab who fled Israel during the 1948 War of Independence as a refugee, regardless of their financial situation or citizenship.

The agency recognizes a total of more than 4.67 million people in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Judea, Samaria and Gaza as “refugees.” Refugees receive food, health services, and education from UNRWA, and many live in UNRWA housing as well. In recent years, the agency has reportedly begun providing aid for impoverished non-refugees in Gaza as well.

UNRWA marked its 60th year of operation on Thursday with a plea for funding. The agency is “faced by a serious deficit,” said Commissioner-General Karen Abu Zayd.

UNRWA is set to receive approximately 40 percent – $186.9 million – of the UN's extra-budgetary increase designated for all refugees worldwide. However, the “refugee” population is growing faster than the agency's budget, officials say, leaving the UN struggling to continue to provide services.